Simultaneously predictable and quirky, this will likely appeal to the author’s fans but may not attract new readers.

TO BE A CAT

This offbeat tale offers an uneasy mix of magical transformation, violence and bullying, and the dreary misery of family dysfunction.

Ultimately, Barney Willow’s sad and odd story drags on a bit too long. Depressed by his parents’ divorce and tormented by a schoolmate, Barney is manipulated by a cruel adult into wishing his life away—literally. After magically switching bodies with a small cat named Maurice, Barney must discover how to regain his humanity. Pursued by Miss Whipmire, the school principal who encouraged his metamorphosis for reasons of her own, Barney seeks protection from his best friend Rissa and his mother. While they eventually understand his outlandish predicament and do their best to help, it’s Barney’s (mysteriously) absent father who provides the information needed to return to his former life. Haig’s writing has somewhat Snicket-ian overtones with occasional coy authorial asides and plenty of pain, suffering, danger and despair. The plot offers some surprises but also feels repetitious in spots. Characterization is brisk but generally effective, with familiar types occupying the background: the quirky best friend with supportive, artsy parents, the vicious bully who turns out to have a surprising weak spot, the harried mum trying hard to carry on in the face of domestic difficulties.

Simultaneously predictable and quirky, this will likely appeal to the author’s fans but may not attract new readers. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-5405-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

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BROWN GIRL DREAMING

A multiaward–winning author recalls her childhood and the joy of becoming a writer.

Writing in free verse, Woodson starts with her 1963 birth in Ohio during the civil rights movement, when America is “a country caught / / between Black and White.” But while evoking names such as Malcolm, Martin, James, Rosa and Ruby, her story is also one of family: her father’s people in Ohio and her mother’s people in South Carolina. Moving south to live with her maternal grandmother, she is in a world of sweet peas and collards, getting her hair straightened and avoiding segregated stores with her grandmother. As the writer inside slowly grows, she listens to family stories and fills her days and evenings as a Jehovah’s Witness, activities that continue after a move to Brooklyn to reunite with her mother. The gift of a composition notebook, the experience of reading John Steptoe’s Stevie and Langston Hughes’ poetry, and seeing letters turn into words and words into thoughts all reinforce her conviction that “[W]ords are my brilliance.” Woodson cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned.

For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-25251-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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